Looking Back At American Heroes

A tribute to service men via their trucks

Published in the July 2019 Issue July 2019

Since 2014 the editors of Diesel Tech Magazine have paid tribute to our veterans by highlighting their trucks in the July issue. This year, along with showcasing a vet who typifies the love for country and diesel trucks, we wanted to recap some of those vets and vehicles with a special “looking back” tribute.

Military men and women spend a lot of time in some pretty serious machinery. And for some, they never lose that taste for power—pulling some heavy weight, revving a high-horsepower engine and just getting down to business. In this issue, we went back through previous issues to highlight some former (and current) soldiers who have a taste for diesel. It’s our small way of saying thanks to those who are willing to put their lives on the line every day.

Without their sacrifice, and that of millions of others throughout our nation’s history, our lives would be much different today … and not on the good side. Heroism is something few truly possess, and to put one’s life on the line every day is truly awe-inspiring.

We started this feature a few years ago to show our gratitude to those individuals who answered the call of duty and rose to the challenge. Featured in these pages you’ll find men and women who fit the bill and are also huge diesel enthusiasts. If you happen to see one of them or any other veteran in your travels, give them a handshake and thank them for their service.

So to those who have served, continue to serve, and will serve in the future, we thank you. And we’re not just blowing black smoke.

 Sergeant Bill Morgan

Bill Morgan joined the United States Army in 1968—during the height of the Vietnam War. Not only did he enlist, he also volunteered (twice) for service in what soon became an unpopular war. Perhaps being born on Flag Day made him just a little more patriotic and willing to serve. Or perhaps it was because of his great love of country.

In total, Morgan spent 18 months serving as a sergeant and crew chief mechanic working on helicopters in Vietnam. He even survived a helicopter crash while flying in the “chase ship” for General William Westmoreland, Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

“We were following General Westmoreland when we lost an engine and went down,” Morgan explained. “But since we were part of his escort (and perhaps because we had some top secret communications equipment on board), the Army was very quick to send in help to retrieve our crew.”

When it comes to Morgan’s love for diesel trucks, the passion is equally there. In fact, his wife, Cindy, claims Morgan loves his truck more than her. But that’s likely not true … but his truck is a close second.

Morgan owns a 2006 Ford F350 Dually (the Amarillo package). It was a truck he fell in love with when he first saw it. But he didn’t get a chance to buy it until 2013. And the first thing he did was have all the updates installed to fix all the bugs that were common to that model of Ford diesels.

Since purchasing his truck, it’s performed perfectly and now has more than 220,000 miles on it … and is expecting that many more. Morgan had previously owned a 1999 Ford diesel and racked up more than 300,000 miles on its odometer before acquiring this current truck.

Morgan uses his truck to pull his fifth-wheel and UTV trailer. He spends a lot of time with his wife and Polaris RZR in the mountains so it’s not uncommon to see his 73-foot truck-trailer-trailer tow package headed down the freeway.

 Sergeant E5 Roman Brittenham

Roman Brittenham joined the United States Army in 1989, following in the footsteps of his stepfather, and became part of the Military Police. While serving in the MP, Brittenham was deployed during Operation Desert Storm and to Bosnia twice. Reflecting upon his time in the service Roman says he misses the camaraderie of the Armed Services and still keeps in touch with his military friends and family.

Unlike most vets, Brittenham was frank about suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He recognizes that he is still under the effects of being in combat situations and has discovered that working on his 2011 Ram is both relaxing and therapeutic.

Brittenham’s 2011 Dodge Ram 3500 has a fair number of internal and external modifications and with the upgrades to his engine, his Ram is pushing 575hp. The list contains 10-inch Full Throttle Suspension Long Arm kit that was powder-coated candy blue to match the truck, 24 by 12 American Force Wheels Vector Faceplate Wheels, 40-inch Toyo Tires MTs, AMP Research Power Steps, Bushwacker pocket flares painted to match the truck, H&S Performance Mini Max, aFe Power CAI and a Flo-Pro Performance 4-inch Turbo Back Exhaust.

Brittehham has continued working on his Ram and making improvements since being highlighted in the July 2014 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.

 Spec Ops Sergeant Chip Whittamore

Chip Whittamore served in the United States Army, enlisting in 2000 and medically retiring in 2006. His drive to be the best advanced his career in the military where he joined the 1/75th Ranger Regiment.

Whittamore joined in 2000, before the events of 9/11, and afterward was deployed to Iraq once and Afghanistan three times. Thinking back on his service, Whittamore said he is proud that his unit worked closely with a SEAL Team in the rescue of the first woman prisoner of war, and the first rescue of a prisoner of war since the Vietnam War, Jessica Lynch.

While in the line of active duty, Whittamore received a head wound, which has made learning about the intricacies of his truck both difficult and, in his words, entertaining. Whittamore suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and learning about and working on his truck has been a vital part of his recovery. Upgrading his diesel, working with mechanics and other veterans has become therapeutic for him and his readjustment into civilian life and activities.

The first high performance upgrade to his diesel was an ATS 48RE Stage 6 Transmission. Since then, Whittamore has added several modifications to his truck, including an ATS Aurora 5000 Compound Turbos, ATS Twin Fueler Pump Kit, Dynomite Diesel Custom 150hp Injectors, AirDog 150 Lift Pump, ATS Co-Pilot Transmission Controller, ARP 425 Head Studs, EFILive tuning with CSP5 Switch Pro-Comp Traction Bars and a Banks Exhaust. When testing the performance of his diesel, the dyno clocked him at 860 hp and 1543 ft/lbs. torque.

Whittamore has not finished working on his diesel and he’s looking forward to adding a Detroit Locker differential for the rear axle, a new Ram Air Hood and a 5-inch Flo-Pro Exhaust. Whittamore has enjoyed drag racing his truck and displaying it at truck shows. Whittamore was also featured in the July 2014 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.

 Sergeant Promotable Zach Gadwaw

Zach Gadwaw has served as a mechanic in the United States Army. After completing his career in the military, Gadwaw desires to open his own diesel shop and work hands-on upgrading and modifying drag trucks.

Gadwaw is serious about his 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD LT. With 59K miles rolled on the odometer, this truck is built for power and to drag in the NHRDA. On the dyno his Silverado is pushing 723hp with an impressive 1152 ft/lbs. of torque.

As a diesel mechanic, Gadwaw takes personal pride in the work he has put into his truck. The impressive list of engine modifications starts with a 6.6L LBZ Duramax, Stage 2 aFe cold air intake, Stage 2 Powermax Garret Turbo from Industrial Injection, 3-inch MBRP downpipe, custom exhaust with 6-inch RBP tip, PPE Fuel Race Valve, rebuilt studded heads, EFILive tuning with Edge CTS for gauges and Mitshimoto 3-inch intercooler piping upgrade kit with boots, plus10 percent injector nozzles round out the completed engine upgrades needed to push the horsepower of his drag truck.

The transmission is a 6-speed Allison with Alli-locker. Miscellaneous other modifications include 4:23 gears, a Fabtech lift kit, Heim Joint tie rods, 37-inch Interco M16s on XD rims, traction bars from Longhorn Fab shop, McNeil racing Baha fenders, Halo HIDs and a Ranch Hand rear bumper replacement.

Gadwaw was also featured in the July 2014 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.

 Staff Sergeant E-5 Corey Lingren

After enlisting in 2008, Corey Lingren worked as a Staff Sergeant E-5 in the Oregon Air National Guard at Kingsley Field. Kingsley Field is the only base in the United States to train pilots on the F-15 C and F-15 D models.

As an Electrical and Environmental Specialist on F-15 fighter jets, Lingren had the unmatched pleasure of working on some of the most advanced fighter jets in our nation’s Armed Forces. Working on the titans of airspace superiority has left Lingren with a desire to build a truck that captures the look and feel of the power and performance of those aircraft.

With that performance in mind, Lingren has invested a great deal of time and money on his 2004.5 Chevy 2500HD Crew Cab Short Bed. He’s installed an aFe cold air intake, an S&B intake mouthpiece, a PPE Stage 4 transmission, a Banks Hot Side intercooler pipe, 60-inch traction bars from Siskiyou Diesel, a FASS Titanium 150 fuel pump, a PCV reroute, Auto Meter Cobalt Boost and EGT gauges, and a whole lot more.

Lingren also put a premium on creature comforts, and did a lot of work to make the truck comfy, both inside and out. To that end, he installed an Ambush Front Bumper, 18-inch KMC XD Series wheels with 275/70 18 Toyo Open Country AT2 tires, a 12,000-pound Warn winch, a 30-inch LED radius light bar, two 3x3 LED Light pods, and a JVC Double Din touch screen radio.

Lingren used the truck as his daily driver, though he was planning to test it on a dyno to see how it stacks up with other trucks. Lingren was featured in the July 2015 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine

 Airman First Class Derek Kinzel

Derek Kinzel, affectionately known as Big D to his friends, was an Airman First Class in the United States Air Force from 2003 to 2006. While enlisted, Kinzel worked on large Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircrafts and served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During Kinzel’s enlistment in the armed services he supported and was part of a number of sorties.

Tragically, Kinzel’s service in the military was cut short because of a serious injury.

“After my last tour, I wasn't off the plane for even a day when someone pulled out in front of my motorcycle,” Kinzel said. “Even after multiple surgeries, my injuries were too severe to continue my enlistment and I was handed my pink slip.”

After retiring from the military, Kinzel began to invest in his truck and started making serious modifications. Working along with his wife, Leia, Kinzel breathed new life into General Fummins, his 1986 Ford F350 Crew Cab dually with a 12-valve Cummins.

Kinzel’s passion for diesel trucks began nearly a decade ago when he was lined up against a Cummins at a drag strip. At the time, Kinzel was piloting a 700hp, nitrous-fed Firechicken, and his competition beat him in the 60-foot, but Kinzel narrowly edged him at the end of the quarter-mile. Once they’d come to a stop, Kinzel flagged him down, looked over in awe at his impressive setup, and took a ride with him for the next pass. After that race, Big D ditched his gas burner and began his love affair with compression ignition.

After retiring from the military, Kinzel owned a performance shop that he was forced to close at the height of the recession in 2008; during this time he believed it would be a good idea to have a dependable vehicle that he could trust in case things continued to get worse for the economy in general.

Kinzel was really drawn to the mechanical injection, ease of maintenance, and multi-fuel capabilities of a diesel truck and with planning and foresight he was able to incorporate that into his truck. 

Current modifications to General Fummins include a refreshed, low-mile 12-valve swap, pump turned up but nothing too extreme. He also added a custom 4-inch intake with an air shutoff valve, intercooler, 4-inch turbo back exhaust and finally, a ’96 ZF5 transmission that replaced the old stock transmission, making the ’86 a ZF-5 speed.

“I started with a great base and put my touches on it. It all has a purpose,”said Kinzel. “I wanted this to be easy to drive, comfortable and formidable,” he added.

If formidable is what you want, 16x10 Black Rocks wheels and a 6-inch Rough Country lift on 35-inch tires will probably get you there. The rear end of the truck is from a ’97 F450, and includes a custom front bumper, a fifth wheel hitch, and one-off flatbed with blinding tailgater lights to keep annoyances at bay.

Nevertheless, Kinzel tells a story of one persistent tailgater. “I was heading home from dropping my trash off across town when I noticed I was being followed. I zigged, they followed. I zagged, followed still. Sped up or slowed down, it didn’t matter. I pulled into a parking lot and got out, ready to give this guy a piece of my mind when I saw a badge. Turns out he was a detective and had been hunting me down to find out where I got my headache rack lights. He just wanted a pair for his.”

Kinzel was also featured in the July 2015 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.

 Specialist (E5) Combat Engineer James Bliss

You hear all the time about people discovering old treasures in vintage barns, but what James Bliss came across is what most would consider above and beyond a normal great find. Bliss, who served in the Vietnam War in the late 60s with 18th BDE 937 Group HHC 20th Engineer Battalion Pleiku, discovered a 1985 Ford F350 that had been converted to include a Cummins diesel engine.

“It has a 1985 5.9L with a JWAC (Jacket Water After Cooling) and it’s backed by an Allison automatic 545 transmission then a Doug Nash Engineering two-speed with 4:10 rear gear ratio,” explained Bliss. “The truck had been in a barn for 15 years when I discovered it and rescued it.”

The veteran and his son, who is also named James, frequent a salvage yard in north Georgia quite a bit and one day his son struck up a conversation with an 81-year-old man about the Cummins he was driving.

“He told us he also has a F350 with a Cummins in it that he converted in 1986, a year after he bought it and blew up the 6.9L engine,” said Bliss. They asked if it was for sale and after some back and forth negotiating Bliss ended up with it.

“I had to also buy a 1987 Frieghtliner with 162,000 miles with an L-10 Cummins and 9-speed Roadranger to get the F350,” says the Vietnam veteran. “It was a package deal: no Frieghtliner, no F350.”

The FUMMINS—the nickname for a Ford truck with a Cummins diesel engine—runs and drives great and especially considering the truck’s age it looks remarkably good. Bliss speculates that this might have been one of the first FUMMINS conversions for a F350 on a truck that is now over 30 years old.

Bliss was featured in the July 2016 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.

 Sergeant Brandon Cotter

Brandon Cotter joined the Marine Corps in January 2007 and went to boot camp at MCRD San Diego, then School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton. From 2007-2009 he was stationed in Washington, DC, for Presidential Support. In 2009 he was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina with 2nd Battalion 6th Marines Echo Company. In June of 2010 they were deployed to Marjah, Afghanistan, and were there until January 2011. He was a designated marksman on that deployment.

“At the time it was a pretty kinetic area,” said Cotter. “We lost our squad leader just a few days before we deployed because he went as an advance party. We had already lost two squad leaders and two sergeants before we actually left. It was a pretty kinetic time, with firefights pretty much every day.”

In November 2011 Cotter’s unit deployed again to Afghanistan where he was a fire team leader and squad leader with Weapons Company. They returned from that deployment in May 2012. In August 2013 they deployed to Okinawa, Japan, where he was an instructor at the Jungle Warfare Training Center where he taught combat operations in the jungle. He was a sergeant and spent the majority of his time with 2nd Battalion 6th Marines. His specializations were 0311 (infantry rifleman) and 0352 (anti-tank missleman). He currently lives in Wilmington, N.C., where he is attending college and working full-time.

Cotter’s truck is a pretty serious beast. He first got turned on to diesels during his second Afghanistan deployment.

“One of my good friends there had a 2004 Silverado LB7,” said Cotter. “At the time, I just had a car, because I was making an hour drive back and forth to work. We spent pretty much the entire seven months talking about diesels and that kind of stuff. I ended up driving him down one day to Diesel Addiction to drop him off to pick up his truck. From then on, I realized I needed a diesel. Literally, it was within a week or two that I found my truck.”

It was a 2005 Silverado 2500 LT Crew Cab LLY. The list of modifications was as long as his arm and included such upgrades as EFILive, a Danville Performance 68mm stage 2 turbo, an AirDog 150 lift pump, a stage 4 PPE-built transmission, PPE up pipes and manifolds, and much more.

“I kind of initially got it because I wanted something to get decent mileage and I wanted a truck,” said Cotter. “We live off the coast of North Carolina, so we drive out onto the beach and I wanted four-wheel drive. Then the performance thing slowly started creeping in. I still drive it to school and work every day. I’m already planning for the next thing.”

Cotter was featured in the July 2017 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.

 Captain Andrew Barton

We first heard about Andrew Barton from our buddy Gary Fields up in Belgrade, MT. Fields, himself, is a Marine Corps veteran, but he knew Barton would be excited to have his truck show up in Diesel Tech Magazine.

“Gary and I met back in college, and when I was going through college I did ROTC and then ended up in Montana National Guard and spent probably about four and a half years on active duty, for a total of about seven and a half years in the Guard,” said Barton. “I was a Medevac pilot while I was in. I had one deployment to Iraq from 2011-2012. Gary had my truck during that time and he, my wife, and my mom conspired against me to get it done. I thought I was coming home to a still pretty ugly-looking truck, but then I come home and it’s all the way done.”

Barton came home on leave in January of 2012 and went over to the shop to check it out and give it a test drive.

“Back when we were in college, before Gary had even thought about opening up a shop, that was the truck that we always talked about building,” said Barton. “It would be that old body style Ford straight cab longbox, and that’s kind of where that came about. When he opened his shop, I went and bought that and he’s worked on it ever since.”

The truck has seen a full rebuild from the head up. It’s got ARP Head studs, a larger Garrett turbo, a FASS fuel system, and HPOP. It had 150cc injectors for a while, but Barton said it just ran too hot.

“You couldn’t keep it below 1,200 degrees (EGT) and it was just blowing black smoke like no other,” he said.

Barton was featured in the July 2017 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.

 Sergeant Jen Zetah

Jen Zetah is a full-time diesel mechanic in the Connecticut Army National Guard. She’s so passionate about working on diesels that she decided to open her own side business a few years after her last deployment. When she’s not on duty, you can find her busy building diesel trucks—many military—at her diesel shop, Gun One.

“I own eight diesels,” said Zetah. “My daily driver is a white F250 with a Power Stroke 7.3L.”

Zetah alwas has multiple diesel projects in the works—like her 1980 M916 with a Cummins Big Cam, or the 1971 Firebird on top of a 1970 K5 Blazer frame with an added 6.2L diesel engine. Life has kept her busy. That hasn’t kept Zetah from also upgrading her daily driver, though. These modifications included a 6-inch lift, flat bed swap, custom kayak racks and Iron Bull bumper. She also added a front winch set-up, LED light bars, Flowmaster exhaust and 35-inch tires to her reliable F250.

Zetah was also featured in the July 2017 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.

 Sergeant Ryan Ward

Sergeant Ryan Ward was active duty Army, a forward observer in the Ranger Regiment and is airborne and Ranger qualified with multiple deployments overseas. His truck was a 1996 Ford F350 7.3L Power Stroke.

It’s sitting pretty with a CPR fuel system from Diesel Site, a Twin Terminator HPOP, Irate T4 kit with S476 and turbosmart wastegate, ARP head studs and compressor springs, 350/200 Full Force Injectors, a BTS E4od, a Snow Performance water methanol kit, and Tyrant Diesel tunes.

“I first became interested in diesel trucks in high school when I took a mechanics class and just knew I had to buy one,” said Ward. “Soon after, I met my friends Mike and Justin, who also drive 7.3Ls. With their help, along with Diesel Shop, LLC, my truck has transformed from a slow dinosaur into a ride that whips me back into the seat...once the turbo lights up.”

Ward was featured in the July 2016 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine

 Boatswains Mate 3rd Class Petty Officer Courtney Carroll

Courtney Carroll was stationed at a deployable Maritime Safety Security Team in Miami, Fla. Her job as a boatswains mate 3rd class petty officer was the most versatile rating, since they are in charge of the newest Coast Guard small boats while conducting search and rescue, aids to navigation, law enforcement and security operations.

“I come from the small town of Loxahatchee, FL, which is full of trucks,” said Carroll. “Growing up, I always said one day I would own the truck of my dreams. Every day I'm reminded of that when I walk out to my driveway and see my truck, a 2011 Ford F250. Tina is her name. I decided to go with the pink so that everyone knows it's a girl’s truck”

Modifications include a 2.5-inch leveling kit, 35x12.50 Toyo Open Country tires, and pink and white decals. In the future, Carroll wants to add an H&S Mini Maxx with custom tunes and a four-inch downpipe to a five-inch tip.

Carroll was featured in the July 2016 issue of Diesel Tech Magazine.




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